If you thought the tsk-tsk antics of the French aristocracy ended when the peasants stormed the Bastille, “Bel Ami” is here to tell you that corruption and debauchery among the upper classes carried on for at least a century more.
Based on a novel by Guy de Maupassant and directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, “Bel Ami” follows the successful sexual career of Georges Duroy (played by “It boy” Robert Pattinson — could he be the next Bradley Cooper?) as he flutters from one Parisian beauty to another, notably the brainy/sexy journalist Madeleine (Uma Thurman), boho chick Clotilde (Christina Ricci) and older grand-dame type Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas). All three ladies are manipulated to the hilt by Georges, who nurses ambitions to control the French media and become fabulously wealthy.
Unfortunately, he has no talent to speak of, and the film revolves around how he frequently beds the three women and comes off as a selfish pig. De Maupassant is famed for his portrayals of chauvinistic brutes, adored by their women but seldom punished. His original prose was rife with irony, but “Bel Ami” has none. This serves the flimsy and out-of-his-depth Pattinson but is a waste of the abilities of the femme trio, all of them much too classy for the likes of Georges to handle. Pity.